UK markets await major press conference after PM Truss fires finance minister

U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss will hold a news conference on Friday afternoon, shortly after firing Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng and amid mounting speculation the government is poised to U-turn on market-rocking tax cuts.

On a day of fast-moving developments, Truss sacked Kwarteng just weeks after he announced unfunded spending plans that triggered economic turmoil.

U.K. government bonds — known as gilts — rallied sharply ahead of the news conference. The long-dated 30-year yield briefly touched 4.261% during morning trade. Yields move inversely to prices.

Sterling whipsawed during a volatile session. It was last seen trading down 0.8% at $1.1235.

The Conservative government has faced growing political pressure to reverse course after announcing unfunded tax cuts late last month. Opinion polls show support for Truss’ administration has collapsed and investors continue to fret about the potential impact on public finances.

Kwarteng told reporters Thursday that he was returning from the U.S. ahead of schedule this week, without providing further details. Multiple reports suggested Truss and Kwarteng were set to scrap some economic plans on Friday.

The debt-funded measures, announced on Sept. 23 and estimated to total £43 billion ($48.7 billion), sent financial markets into a tailspin. The British pound plummeted to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar, borrowing costs rose sharply and the Bank of England was forced to intervene.

Truss and Kwarteng have repeatedly defended the government’s radical spending plan, insisting the proposals are necessary to stimulate economic growth.

Speaking from the U.S. on Thursday, Kwarteng responded to questions about a possible U-turn by saying he is “totally focused on delivering the growth plan.” Kwarteng also insisted that he is “not going anywhere” and that he and Truss would “100%” still be in their jobs next month.

Sky News reported Thursday that discussions were underway in Downing Street over whether to reconsider some of the tax cuts that Kwarteng announced in the government’s so-called “mini-budget.” It is thought changes to corporation tax and dividend tax could be in the cards.

Last week, Kwarteng reversed a plan to scrap the top 45% rate of income tax paid on earnings above £150,000 ($167,646) a year.

‘Let’s wait and see’
Asked by Sky News Friday morning if reversals on some aspects of the government’s mini-budget were possible, U.K. International Trade Minister Greg Hands replied: “Let’s wait and see. You won’t have long to wait for the 31st of October for the chancellor to lay out those plans.”

Hands said both Truss and Kwarteng were “absolutely resolute” on their plans to grow the economy.

“The growth plan [is] the centerpiece, but we’ll have to see some of the detail including a full forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility on the 31st of October.”

Downing Street and the Bank of England have taken steps to try to reassure financial markets throughout the week, albeit with limited success.

News Movie: “Hallowen Ends”

Kwarteng on Monday sought to assuage lingering concerns by bringing forward the date of his plan to balance the government’s finances to Oct. 31. The decision was welcomed by the International Monetary Fund. Kwarteng had initially said the government would not offer more details on its fiscal plan until Nov. 23.

The Bank of England on Tuesday announced an extension of its emergency bond-buying operation as the pound fell and borrowing costs soared. It warned that “the prospect of self-reinforcing ‘fire sale’ dynamics pose a material risk to UK financial stability.”

The intervention marked the second expansion of the Bank’s rescue package in as many days after it increased the limit for its daily gilt purchases on Monday ahead of the planned end of the purchase scheme on Friday.

By the middle of the week, Truss told lawmakers in the House of Commons that she would not be making cuts to public spending to help pay for the government’s tax cuts.